The overtime game

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  May 4, 2006

But this result — and the success of Broderick’s suit — does not mean there’s been real resolution of the broader problem vexing the department: nobody is ensuring that homicide detectives are using their time wisely, properly, and effectively. The homicide unit’s total overtime pay has risen sharply, while its arrest rate remains one of the lowest in the country — and is getting worse. Last year, the unit spent more than $1 million on overtime and left three-quarters of murders unsolved. Is anyone in the department demanding that the money be better spent? It certainly doesn’t seem so.

Overworked, underperforming

Watching the Detectives
Without question, Boston’s homicide detectives put in many, many hours — legitimately — at Superior Court. In addition to serving at trials, they appear for grand-jury testimony on their cases, and they also track down and escort witnesses.

Homicide detectives on the late shift — the ones who get the bulk of the cases — work from 4 pm to 1 am. Oftentimes, they clock in after spending eight hours of overtime in the courthouse. “At four o’clock I’m in the twilight of my day, and these guys have to show up to Schroeder Plaza,” former prosecutor Timothy Bradl tells the Phoenix. Bradl recently left the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, where he prosecuted homicides for the past three years. “Then at the end of their shift, someone’s going to get shot, and they’ll be there until four in the morning.”

In fact, according to Broderick’s testimony, the busy schedule was often what drove the misbehavior. If a grand jury was supposed to consider a case, for instance, three or four detectives might need to testify. According to Broderick, one detective would bring in cards for all of them, allowing the others to do other work (or, perhaps, get some needed sleep); the detective would then call them to come in if they were needed.

Every court appearance earns an officer a minimum of four hours of time-and-a-half overtime pay. If nobody is watching the time slips or the log-in sheets, that’s easy money. “They simply utilized the lack of supervision ... by submitting overtime slips while they were having a cup of coffee, something unrelated to the court, and getting a minimum of four hours of overtime,” Broderick said in a deposition.

It was a lot of money. In 2001, the 16 detectives in the homicide unit collectively earned close to $600,000 in overtime pay, mostly from Superior Court appearances.

Hard workers?

Two forms obtained by the Phoenix present two overtime shifts for homicide detective John Martel on March 7, 2001. Both are coded “500,” for Suffolk Superior Court. Martel was paid approximately $350 for these shifts.

On the first slip, Martel is signed in and out by Fred Bollen, a BPD officer who worked for the supervisor of courts. Martel wrote that he was there for a grand jury on one of his cases. It involved the murder of Francis Stephens. But the Phoenix has determined from court documents that no grand-jury testimony was given in that case on that date.

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